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Can a Clerk tell Councillors to ignore comments made by a member of the public?

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The Clerk has issued a statement telling all Councillors to ignore comments made by a member of the public.  Is this allowed?  What can Councillors do to protect their constituent's rights?
asked by (900 points)

3 Answers

+1 vote
Best answer
Councillors are elected as representatives of the electorate. It is for them to decide whether or not to ignore comments made.

Are you able to provide more detail of the circumstances?
answered by (11.3k points)
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A member of the public has provided a review of a proposed revision of the council's Financial Regulations and has sent this to all Councillors.  The Clerk has said the review should be "set aside" as the person is not qualified to comment and some aspects of the Financial Regulations have been misinterpreted.  As examples the member of the public has questioned why the word "variable" has been removed from 6.7 of the NALC national guidelines for FRs with reference to VAT (potentially allowing fixed direct debit to be used);  in another change para 4.4 of the NALC document, with reference to annual salary reviews, has been completely removed.  There are a total of 28 comments.  The comments include comparisons with the FRs of neighbouring parishes that show a disparity between our council and other neighbouring councils, at least two of which are of a similar size to ours.  The Clerk has said that the changes made reflect the difference in size and scope of our council.
From the examples you have provided, I would agree with the resident.  It appears that your Clerk (I presume) has been tinkering with the model document in an unnecessary way.  As a general rule, this should be discouraged.  The purpose of the model is to provide a fully-compliant document, within which changes are permissible to meet local requirements, but those changes are highlighted as options in the model.  Does your Clerk not wish to have an annual salary review?

You mention that the Clerk has told you that the member of the public is not qualified to comment.  Does the Clerk have the evidence to back this up?

If I were in your position, I would table a motion to adopt the NALC model Financial Regulations unaltered, except as required by the NALC in the drafting of the model.
I agree.  One of the big changes is to what committees can spend without Full Council authorisation;  this has been increased from £1k to £25k.  In the review the resident has pointed out that in other local councils this limit ranges from £1k to £10k.  I can see that the £1k limit is too low but £25k seems too high - the annual precept is just over £300k.
It is important to bear in mind and to differentiate between the two categories of expenditure i.e. sums agreed in the budgetary process and sums not previously agreed. In view of the level of your precept, there may be large sums agreed by full council through the budgetary process that could legitimately be delegated to a committee to spend. If, however, the intention is to allow a committee to commit £25,000 without any prior approval, that feels uncomfortable.
I believe the reason for the £25k limit is likely to be the risks involved with one of the buildings owned by council suffering a catastrophic failure due to its age and poor condition (and successive councils failing to resolve this or put money aside to deal with it).  I think the answer is to include a clause mitigating for this event specifically rather than giving every committee carte blanche authority to spend up to £25k.  Perhaps I should train to be a Clerk?  :-)
If a building suffers a catastrophic failure, pick up the phone and call your insurance company. From that moment on, they are in charge of a process that might take months or even years; easily enough time to bring the matter to a full council meeting for decisions to be made.

At the risk of telling granny how to suck eggs, have you had a full structural survey done? This will inform the renovate/remove/replace debate and provide a costed workplan. I hope you're not allowing members of the public into or near to this building in its current condition.

We're in the budget-setting season now, albeit a little late in the process, but if there is work to be done, it should be costed and included in next year's budget. Once this has happened, it could legitimately be delegated to an appropriate committee for action.
0 votes
The Clerk can advise members but cannot instruct them to do anything..  He/She may take the view the comments should be ignored, but there are often two sides to every story.  Since the Cllrs are ultimately responsible for the Council's  functions, operations and reputation they would be foolhardy to act on this.
answered by (8.9k points)
What is an agenda if not a set of instructions from Clerk to Council?
An agenda on its own is a list of items for discussion. A summons which contains the agenda items is a notification of a legal requirement to attend a meeting. Cllrs can choose not to attend providing they don't risk disqualification.
0 votes

I know that local electors may object to the Council’s Annual Accounts under Section 16, Audit Commission Act 1998.

However, on other matters pertaining to Financial irregularities, such as the adoption of Financial Regulations, the local electors may need to consult the Parish Councils own internal auditor (who is responsible for investigating any allegations of mismanagement) or even seek the advice of the Audit Commission, and somewhere I am certain I have seen the limits set in Audit regulations somewhere...

answered by (560 points)

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